Illegal? Lethal? What's in your 'natural' sports supplement?

Previously only found in professional gyms for athletes and body-builders, more and more people are now using dietary supplements to help them exercise and improve their performance. The market for sports nutrition is growing rapidly with one source estimating £66m was spent by UK consumers in 2015, up 27% on 2013, with one in four Brits now taking a sports supplement.[1]

Popular products tend to be based on proteins and amino acids, used for their muscle building properties, with additional ingredients such as caffeine or creatine to increase energy levels. But with such a lucrative market, manufacturers are always looking for new ways to provide that sought after energy boost and a variety of 'natural' stimulants have found their way onto our shelves.

One such stimulant of real concern is dimethylamylamine (DMAA). Manufacturers of sports supplements have claimed DMAA is a natural stimulant extracted from geraniums (the flower), but actually it's a stimulant drug, similar to ephedrine, that was previously used as a nasal decongestant. The original manufacturer, Eli Lilly, voluntarily removed the medicine from sale back in the 1980s, amidst concerns over its safety.

How DMAA works

The drug works by narrowing blood vessels in the body which then raises blood pressure and can have knock-on effects on the heart and lungs. Since being included in sports supplements from around 2006, DMAA has been linked to a number of deaths involving heart attacks and stroke in young, healthy adults. In 2012 the UK medicines regulator, the Medicines and Healhcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), banned the sale of products containing DMAA whilst stating they were classed as untested medicines rather than dietary supplements.

Despite this action, products containing DMAA are still being manufactured today and are widely available on the internet. The main problem is that there are so many different names for this ingredient it can be difficult to know whether your supplement contains it. Unknowingly, you could be putting your life in danger by using these products.

MHRA has launched an awareness campaign, backed by organisations such as British Weightlifting and UK Anti-Doping amongst others, and urges people to check their supplements carefully for the following ingredient names:

Geranamine

Geranium extract

Pelargonium graveolens

DMAA

Dimethylamylamine

1,3-Dimethylamylamine

Dimethylpentylamine

Methylhexamine

Methylhexanamine

4-Methyl-2-hexanamine

2-Amino-4-methylhexane

This list is taken from the 'Global DRO' website which you can check if you're concerned about a potentially harmful ingredient in a product you're using. However, this is not an exhaustive list of all possible names of DMAA.

It's also worth noting that some manufacturers may not actually list DMAA as an ingredient at all, no matter what name is used. Always buy nutritional supplements from reputable retail outlets and ask for advice before you make a purchase.

If you are suspicious that any product you are using may contain DMAA or a related ingredient, please report your concerns to MHRA who will investigate on your behalf.

References:

1. Mintel Research; SPORTS NUTRITION BULKS UP: UK MARKET SALES RISE BY 27% IN TWO YEARS AS ONE IN FOUR BRITS USE THE PRODUCTS; 6 TH July 2016; http://www.mintel.com/press-centre/social-and-lifestyle/sports-nutrition-bulks-up-uk-market-sales-rise-by-27-in-two-years-as-one-in-four-brits-use-the-products

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